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Al Qa'eda terrorists 'plan to turn tanker into a floating bomb'
Fanatics from the Islamic terror faction blamed for last week's suicide attack on the Australian embassy in Indonesia are planning to hijack an oil tanker or freighter and turn it into a floating bomb, The Telegraph has learned.
United States intelligence has passed on warnings about the plot to launch an attack in the region's busy shipping lanes to several countries, including Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. They acted after intercepting communications between activists from Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a network linked to al Qa'eda.
The terrorists have been discussing plans to seize a vessel using local pirates. The hijacked ship would be wired with explosives and then directed at other vessels, sailed towards a port or used to threaten the narrow and congested sea routes around Indonesia.
Strong indications that Islamic extremists are planning a new wave of bloody attacks against Western targets also emerged in Pakistan where detained militants revealed that the latest al Qa'eda video tape was intended to be a trigger for fresh atrocities.
Prisoners captured in recent weeks have told their interrogators that last week's taped message from Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, was a signal for al Qa'eda cells that were already on standby.
"We were told that a new tape either carrying bin Laden or his deputy's message was on its way, and that it was intended to trigger a major terror attack," a senior Pakistani intelligence official told The Telegraph. "The cadres linked to the terror network were told to carry out an attack once this video is released."
In the tape, Al-Zawahiri predicted America's defeat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Security was further tightened at foreign embassies in Pakistan after its release just two days before yesterday's third anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Pakistani officials investigating the activities of Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, the al Qa'eda computer expert believed to have been co-ordinating a plot to bomb Heathrow airport, have recovered further information from the arrested man's computer.
Khan and other militants had collected detailed lists of local and international staff of American and British missions working in Pakistan and senior officials in the war on terrorism. The information included home addresses, daily travel routines and even names of schools attended by the children of foreigners under surveillance.
In Indonesia, Australia's top policeman said yesterday that the militants behind the embassy attack on Thursday were believed to have deployed a second team of suicide bombers in Jakarta.
"There's further intelligence in the last 24 to 48 hours of a second group active in the area," said Mick Keelty, the Federal Police Commissioner, who flew to Jakarta to investigate the blast that killed nine Indonesians and injured 182.
Police released video recordings of the blast from two security cameras yesterday. They showed a van passing on its way to the embassy before blowing apart in a flash of smoke and debris, shaking trees and buildings before the image went blurry.
The attack indicated that JI remains a lethal force, despite the arrest of more than 200 activists across south-east Asia, including Hambali, its alleged mastermind, who was seized in Thailand last year.
Azahari Husin, a British-educated explosives expert who is believed to have made the devices that blew up a Bali disco in 2002, killing more than 200 people, and the Marriott hotel in Jakarta last August, has emerged as the organisation's most wanted man.
Indonesian police said yesterday that he had been recruiting members in recent weeks in Java, the biggest island in the world's most populous Muslim country, as JI regained strength following the arrests.
Husin, a Malaysian who completed a engineering doctorate at Reading University in 1990 and later trained at al Qa'eda camps in Afghanistan, is believed to have only recently moved out of a rented house in north-west Jakarta.
Following a tip-off after Thursday's attack, investigators raided the abandoned home and discovered traces of TNT explosives and sulphur, matching residue found at the embassy bomb site.
The rejuvenation of JI will heighten concerns in Australia that the country could face terrorist attacks on its soil ahead of parliamentary elections on October 9. John Howard, the conservative prime minister, is a strong backer of President George W Bush's war on terror and 850 Australian troops are serving in Iraq.
A purported claim of responsibility for the Jakarta attack was made by JI in a statement on the internet that threatened Australia with more attacks if it did not withdraw its troops from Iraq.
10 September 2004: Nine killed by Australian embassy bomb
18 August 2003: Nine held over hotel suicide bombing
14 October 2002: 182 dead in club bombing